How to choose your tent or shelter

How to choose your tent or shelter

New Zealand weather is notoriously destructive to most tents designed for a more benign set of continental conditions. Ultimately you shouldn’t really be out in adverse weather but sometimes the length of the trip will jus.t dictate this for you. Wind is the great leveller here, both for chill and the amount of pressure it puts on your shelter’s engineering limits. Your shelter is after all, a safe haven to get out of the elements if the need arises.

We spoke to two of our brand ambassadors, Ross Mackay and Jim Young, about what shelters they choose when they are out in our back country. This is how they factor weather, season, what and where the mission is, and weight vs durability into their decision making.

What main factors do you consider when choosing a shelter?

RM: How I choose shelter for my trips is mostly dictated by what the weather gods are about to share and the distance/remoteness I am travelling. The last thing I want is an inappropriate shelter that was just designed for a different set of circumstances blown flat or disappearing over the ridge to my left.

I start with weight vs remoteness, then go to the space I have to work with. The space required for a 10-day trans alpine trip and a 7-day bike packing vigil is different to a nice little overnight jaunt to your favourite backcountry valley.

 JY: My main take is how it functions for the mission at hand, skiing vs climbing, snow vs. rock, alpine vs valley floor for example. I think of my shelter the same way you think of a house – what climate does it need to sustain and how long do I need to use it forWith shelter fabric and design being so advanced, weight is becoming less and less of an issue. Deciding on the right shelter becomes an equation of (amount of people + environment) X (weight / space limits) = the shelter for the mission.

Being able to use the weather forecast to decide if you need a heavy-duty shelter or can get away with something lighter weight is also a decision worth close consideration. You don’t want to lose that gamble however!

When does saving weight matter?

RM: The juggle of energy output vs weight carried can either leave you with some gas in the tank after a 12hr day, or moving at snail’s pace, not hitting your distance targets and being completely rinsed at the end of the day if you are carrying too much on your back. Add in the winter dynamic and the gear requirement will send the weight of your bag through the roof, so be realistic about your outputs and the actual weight that your bag ends up.

 JY: Weight has become more of a priority for me in recent times. As soon as you have to carry it, weight is very important so having a rationale for taking something larger / heavier is keyBasing this decision around weather is a good starting point to work backwards fromIf encountering poor weather is inevitable on your trip then durability is king. You can’t risk a trip being ruined with a shredded tent! Save the light weight for the fine spells.

JY: For emergency shelter, I typically carry a 4 PAX Bothy Bag type shelter to sit under in high winds, rain or snow. It won’t be glamorous, but you will be warm and dry (hopefully!)  Comfort in an emergency situation is a luxury not worth carrying extra weight for in my opinion. As long as we can survive the night warm and dry, that’s good enough for me.

What is your go-to shelter?

RM: For longer trips, I will carry the Sea to Summit tarp and/or the Black Diamond Mega Light pyramid tent. For biking the tarp is an excellent option for a quick to set up shelter for late finish and early start kind of days, great when the wind is low and you just need something to keep the early morning dew off. It’s quick to fold and roll, and it straps nicely to the down tube of a bike with the good ol’ BD ski strap. I have used these two in combo on a particularly rainy trip – we strung the tarp up in the trees so we could stand or sit under it and lit a fire so we could dry off and have some heat. It was just a nicer place to hang out then hunched inside the Mega Light, we unpacked and set beds up in the tent and just chilled with space to move under the tarp in the trees – perfect.

I have used the Mega Light for a number of seasons now, both summer and winter. It is a simple shelter that does great in a moderate wind range. It is a nice watertight space that will get you out of the rain and can be “dug in” to the snow to keep the wind out a bit if needed. It has room for up to 4 if you really need it but is a very comfy shelter for 2. From -15 to 30 deg this is a very versatile shelter, If the weather is going to be mostly fine and clear and not too windy, this is my go-to.


JY: My current tiebreaker is either my Black Diamond Mega Light 4 person shelter for ski trips or my Outdoor Research Alpine Bivvy bag for climbing trips.

The Black Diamond Mega Light is such a basic concept done very well. A simple floorless teepee style design allows for a very roomy space for up to 4 PAX depending on how you configure digging out the floor. It’s easy to cook in, has standing room if dug deep enough, heaps of gear stash, lightweight, and you can use ski poles as tent poles. On the flip side it’s not ideal in strong winds, needs the floor dug to set up, and you need lots of insulation from snow floor for sleeping.

The Outdoor Research Alpine Bivvy is an excellent single person goretex bivvy bag with a small-hooped pole to create a mini tent over your head. A timeless shelter option for the climber on the move. It’s light and small, waterproof, low profile, warm, and very fast to set up and pack. It can be a bit claustrophobic, does not breath great, and is really for fair weather only.


RM: If I’m heading to the cold alpine for an extended time, I’ll carry a 4 season 2 skin geodesic dome tent. These offer the most protection in almost any weather condition. They rarely fail in really terrible conditions, and you can build snow walls to manage the wind better and add a lot of protection. With correct anchoring in the snow these tents will go the distance and provide a nice comfortable place to retreat from the weather. They can be split up between the group. When packing them in my pack I never roll them, I always just stuff them into the spare nooks and crannies of my bag (food and day equipment on top) as its usually the first thing that comes out at camp to set up. Pull the tent out and jam an axe into the snow though one of the corner loops so it doesn’t blow away and you are good to start setting up.

Summer tent options such as the Sea to Summit Telos or Alto are great to use as the mesh sides and space they provide are key to comfort when the temps are on the climb. Quick to set up and plenty of space these architectural wonders are light to carry and can be split between the party as well.

RM: When you are choosing a shelter, look to where you are ultimately going to be using it, what weather you are going to experience and the load you are prepared to carry and for how long. There are lots of good options out there, do your research and make wise choices.